Lately, we’ve all gotten so used to seeing people at the highest levels of government committing crimes right out in the open, that when you hear about an Instagram account stealing jokes and passing them off as their own, it’s easy for most of us to shrug it off. But what Elliot Tebele and his media empire Jerry Media have been doing should concern everyone.
Jerry Media, an advertising company masquerading as a “meme page,” operates an extremely popular Instagram account called @fuckjerry with enough “influence” to reportedly charge advertisers upwards of $75,000 for a single branded post and $25,000 for a “swipe-up story.” Before gathering 40 million followers across all platforms, Tebele began his career posting things he found amusing online on Tumblr in 2011, eventually settling on Instagram. “I would post a comedic post here and there and noticed the engagement was much higher than the other posts so it slowly evolved into a full fledged comedy account,” he told Forbes.
Here’s how they appear to have amassed their fortune: they stole people’s tweets, removed credit and monetized it. That’s all. It’s very simple. And enraging.
Because of Jerry Media’s involvement with the disastrous Fyre Fest and the release of the Jerry Media-produced Netflix documentary FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, Tebele’s company has been under the microscope, and, rightly so. Tebele’s team was brought on to market the festival on social media, using their massive platform to steer their followers into buying expensive tickets to a music festival in the Bahamas that festival organizer and serial conman Billy McFarland would never have ready in time. McFarland’s scam was undoubtedly facilitated by Jerry Media’s practice of deleting any comments that were critical of the festival, and banning accounts who tried to inform ticket purchasers that the event was a sham. But what else would you expect from a company that was built on ripping people off?
Tebele grew his accounts over the years, fully aware of the cracks in Instagram’s system. Instagram created an environment where rampant plagiarism means big money, and Tebele knew how to exploit this to the fullest. (The photo-sharing site did not return a request for comment.) The folks at Jerry Media are conscienceless hacks operating within this ethical and legal gray area of the site, and that needs immediate attention. I believe it starts with the deletion of Tebele’s @fuckjerry account, as well as his numerous other accounts that are overflowing with unconsented, uncompensated material. They’ve all gotta go. Get ‘em the hell outta here.
Imagine spending years honing your craft as a comedian or artist, and then finding out that something you spent weeks perfecting has been taken and used to sell body spray or some disgusting new food from Burger King, and then seeing awards handed out to those very thieves. There are countless examples of their award-winning theft online, and typically it’s involved screenshotting a funny tweet, often cropping out the name of the person who created it, and then posting it to @fuckjerry with an advertisement attached to it. Though, sometimes they would get “creative” and rephrase the joke in an attempt to hide their plagiarism. I mean, even their brand’s logo is stolen.
When @fuckjerry and its chief content coordinator (and twice-suspended Boston College kicker) Ryan Ohliger ripped off a few edited comedy videos of mine in 2016, I called Ohliger out and requested credit or deletion of my work. Ohliger, who goes by the online handle “Krispyshorts,” responded to me with “Shut up,” and blocked me, just as they did to Fyre Fest critics.
Well, Mr. Krispyshorts: We are not shutting up any longer.
Like in most situations of rampant corporate greed, people so often feel powerless to create change. But change has to start somewhere. The #FuckFuckJerry campaign, which urges people to unfollow Tebele’s accounts, has gained serious traction online in the past week due to years of outrage built up by ripped-off comedians and a recent piece by Megh Wright for Vulture. Dozens more people have come forward recently about having their stolen jokes and art showing up on @fuckjerry’s pages. My worry is that Tebele will be able to ride out the news cycle until our outrage is replaced with something new, as typically happens. But something feels different about this particular moment of pushback against @fuckjerry. For once, there’s hope.
Major celebs in and out of the comedy world — including John Mulaney, Patton Oswalt and Colin Hanks — are unfollowing and speaking out, using their platform to shift the public to stand up for what is right. There is a $100 million class-action suit in the works for damages related to Fyre Fest. @Fuckjerry’s follower count is dropping rapidly, and Comedy Central recently became the first brand to end their relationship with Jerry Media. They need an incentive to change themselves. Fear of their bank account shrinking does the trick.
Though, thanks to Netflix making Tebele and his partners executive producers of their Fyre Fest documentary, and Vice Studios, the producer of the film, allegedly allowing them approval of the final cut, they’ve had help shifting the public narrative to make them out to be just another victim of McFarland’s. (They were not involved in the making of the competing Hulu Fyre Fest documentary.)
Last week, Tebele announced a change in his policy on content stealing after Comedy Central cut ties. He wrote a Medium post that comes across as a half-assed awakening where he realizes that he should ask people permission before using and profiting off their work. In his statement, Tebele states, “Effective immediately, we will no longer post content when we cannot identify the creator, and will require the original creator’s advanced consent before publishing their content to our followers.” They also added that they apologized to “anyone who feels we have wronged them in the past.”
Yet Tebele’s press release made no mention of whether or not they’ll be paying comedians or creators in the future for the jokes or funny images they use to sell Jack-In-The-Box or toilet bowl cleaner. I reached out to Jerry Media to find out about future payment for creators and if this no-theft policy was company-wide, encompassing all thirty accounts rather than just the main @fuckjerry account, but I never heard back.
Fyre Fest wasn’t the first time Jerry Media skirted the line for profit, nor will it be their last. This is what they do. No matter how much they gaslight us with ‘poor me’ press releases Tebele writes, why should we ever believe he’s changing his ways?